Since last August, we have been going through a spiritual formation study on Wednesday nights at our church. We spent several months talking about loving God. Then, we explored what it meant to love people. Now, we are talking about how we do that "to the ends of the earth." We have taken a pretty different approach on each area and I have really grown through it. One of the books that we are using for this last movement is The Micah Mandate: Balancing the Christian Life by George Grant. He deals with Micah 6:8, which says: "But he has showed you, O Man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." His premise is that if we do those three things, then our lives will be in balance and we will be salt and light to the world. Jesus appealed to Micah’s mandate in Matthew 23:23 when he said to the Pharisees, "But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness."
Thom Wolf says that when interacting with the larger culture, we start with justice issues, we the show mercy to people that we connect with, and then we share our faith with them. He calls it "Weeds, Deeds, and Seeds." When we live in a culture that is ignorant or hostile to the gospel, we should seek to come alongside them and set right what has gone wrong by bringing the Kingdom of God. We should pull the weeds that have grown up around them (Justice). Then, we should do good deeds (Matt. 5:16) among them (Mercy). Finally, after their hearts have been made receptive, we should plant the seeds of faith through the gospel (Walking humbly with God). Of course, it does not have to necessarily go in this order, but caring about justice issues and doing good amongst unbelievers surely does open their hearts to ask, "Why are you doing this?" I experienced that directly as we went down to help right after Katrina. Dr. Wolf goes on to say that the Micah/Jesus Mandate is the same as what Paul is saying when he calls us to "faith, love, and hope." It’s just that amongst believers, Paul starts with the heart and our relationship with God and works his way out to our effect on the world.
FAITH = Walking Humbly with God = Planting Seeds (faith comes from hearing the gospel)
LOVE = Mercy = Good Deeds (sacrificially laying our lives down for others)
HOPE = Justice = Pulling Weeds (our hope in in the salvation that is to be granted to us fully one day)
So, basically, the Christian life is a balance of all three of these components as they continue to mix and work in our lives. Unfortunately, we often get out of balance and focus more heavily on one area over the other. Throughout my life, I have seen this imbalance in Christians who were totally focused on trying to change America through politics and social action. I have always felt that wrong. On the other hand, I have met Christians who only wanted to pray and try and do 2 Chronicles 7:14 as though it was some magic formula to restore us to the 1950’s. Also, wrong. George Grant says,
The modern church is sundered by activists who want to save the world on the one hand and by pietists who want to ignore it on the other. Both perspectives are tragically out of sync . . . Our protests, letter writing campaigns, legal initiatives, and moral crusades will never save the world. Our struggle for political legitimacy, our attempts at media savvy, and our cultural trench warfare will never "take America back." As Michael Scott Horton has aptly asserted: "We are going to have to realize that America is a mission field, not a battlefield." The church is not just another interest group or political action committee. Our goals must never be set by the standards of this fallen world – either positively or negatively. Our ultimate purpose must never be to "change the culture" but to honor the living God. That we all too often lose sight of that fact is shameful.
But God is not honored by either detachment or irrelevance. An etherial and pious disassociation from the great questions of our day is not Christian single-mindedness, it is Gnostic absentmindedness. To be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good is not only a poor witness to the transforming power of the Gospel before a watching world, it is a dreadful neglect fo teh pattern of discipleship before the hosts of heaven. The abhorence of the Gospel by those who control the cultural apparatus in our day is not nearly so frightening as the abhorence of responsibility by those who inhabit the vast Evangelical ghetto. The former is simply evidence of the fallen estate, while the latter bespeaks indifference in the face of grace. That, too, is shameful.
We are not to be of the world. But neither are we to be out of it. Both extremes malign God’s intentions for us and those that God has placed around us. Both obscure the divine imperitive to simultaneously live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Both obliterate a Biblical worldview. Both impeded us from tending the garden of this world and yield it up to the ravages of a howling wilderness.
I have been feeling this in my heart and saying this for some time. I am not satisfied with the political/culture warrior approach that so many in the Evangelical Right have taken over the past 30 years. Likewise, I think that the revivalistic, "if we pray enough" approach is also short sighted. We must be holistic in our interactions with society and lostness. We must be salt and light. We must be yeast working through the whole dough. The gospel of the Kingdom has implications for all of life and it is not just a ticket into heaven. If there is any Biblical injunction that speaks to the problems of our present age, I believe that it can be found in Isaiah 58. But, that’s another post for another day.